1) Find a buyer's agent.
In today's real estate market, there is a lot you can do on your own, but the most important steps require the knowledge and experience of someone who knows the process. There is absolutely no benefit to representing yourself, especially in Virginia, where the seller typically pays buyer agent commission. Do your research and find an agent with a reputable brokerage that you can trust and who has YOUR best interest in mind.
2) Get pre-approved for a mortgage.
Before you start touring homes, you want to work with a lender to find out how much house you can afford. Lenders take lots of your financial details into consideration now and things like tax deductions and employment history can impact you in ways you may not have considered. Your buyer agent will likely be able to point you in the direction of a few lenders for you to choose from who they know will get you to settlement. You have 30 days from the day you first pull your credit to pull your credit with several different lenders to shop around for the best rates, so make the most of it! Remember, interest rates also impact your buying power, so take advantage of them while they are low.
3) Establish a budget you're comfortable with.
Just because you can get approved for a $500,000 mortgage, doesn't mean you'll necessarily be comfortable with the monthly payments on top of all your other expenses and spending habits. Be sure to establish a budget that you're comfortable with that includes some room for your savings, entertainment expenses, gas and anything else you can't live without spending your money on.
4) Make time!
Your buyer agent will guide you through the home buying process, but be sure to make time for it! It is important to attend things like the home inspection, especially for your first home, because there is a lot you will learn about the property and maintenance that could prevent major issues down the line.
5) Listen to your agent.
Many times, emotions can take over in the home buying process. There are ups and downs to every transaction, but a good buyer's agent will help give you perspective and advice to guide you through the decision making process during negotiations. It is important to listen to them and try to put emotions aside.